Stop Misusing Your Imagination and Free Yourself

Every once in a while someone hands me a phrase that changes my life. Sometimes it’s a new way of looking at things or a distilled concept wrapped up in a way that lets me carry it around and brandish it when needed. My dad recently gave me one of these which fits both of these categories and has changed my life.

I was talking to him about my difficulties in opening conversations with women I find attractive but yet don’t know. (I’m guessing most of you guys out there have had this experience.) Suppose you’re at a party and see a gorgeous woman: what’s your first response? Probably something along the lines of wanting to interact with her (I’ll leave that vague to cover the various possibilities). Then what do you do? For me, the answer was, unfortunately, to start to talk myself out of it, coming up with reasons why she doesn’t look like she’d want to talk to me. Maybe she’s texting on her phone, so I wouldn’t want to interrupt, it’s probably important, or maybe I can’t think of anything funny to say, and I wouldn’t want to make a bad impression… I could go on and on (and usually do), but you get the idea. So what’s the phrase which helps me catch and change this then?

“You’re misusing your imagination to abuse yourself.”

That’s it. Pretty simple right? And very true. Back to the above situation, I actually have no idea what could possibly be going on in her head. I don’t even know her. Why then am I supposing that she’d be offended or turned off by me? I’m anxious and defending by projecting thoughts and habits from within myself onto her. Why the hell am I doing this to myself? Why don’t I flip things around an imagine the best case scenario? Suppose I walk up to her and just say “hi”. Since I’m just imagining things, why not imagine that she responds by looking me in the eye, grabbing my jacket and pulling me in for some making out.

Start to attend to your anxiety and habitual ways of dealing with it. Work on midfulness of creating conversations in your head or when you’re stopping yourself because you think someone else may say or do something, or maybe you’re worried something they’ve done was because of you. That brings us to our first headline.

Separate self from the other:

Once you catch yourself doing this, stop, get a piece of paper and a pen, and draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper (or in your head if you don’t have one). On one side list the things you know for certain because you’ve observed them in yourself or the world. On the other side, write down all of the things that you’re imagining. Are you using your imagination to come up with doomsday scenarios? Probably.

Instead, cross that all out and decide what you want to do and that you’re going to make it happen. Flip you paper over and user your mind to come up with the how for that. Figure out a plan and then execute. You may run into roadblocks, but they’ll be real, not in your head. Then you can deal with reality. This brings us to the next headline.

Accept Reality:

Without accepting reality, none of this will work. We need to be able to understand and react to reality without applying negative filtering from out punitive superegos. We function most ideally when we’re operating on facts. They won’t always be what we want, but viewing them without applying negative self-talk is hugely beneficial.

We also need to able to admit flaws in ourselves and others and accept that some things are out of our control. Back to my example of meeting women. Imagine that some poor young woman’s dog has just died and she’s gone to the pub to drink a pint. I may be the perfect man for her on any other day, but she won’t care today, she’s mourning her dog. That’s a hard reality. I won’t know about her dog and anguish until I try to interact, so I shouldn’t stop myself, nor need I later on try to come up with manufactured reasons that I’ve “failed”.

In fact, look at that ugly word, “failed” — is that a good thing to do to myself?  Did I fail, or did I try and get less than what I wanted yet learn something? Accepting that failure is part of life and learning is a whole other topic, but certainly one worth trying to recognize.

Shut down the superego:

Once we’re started to recognize our imagination abuse (or the punitive superego I mentioned above if you want to sound scholarly) we then have to stop it. For me, trying to separate what I control from what I don’t and accepting facts without letting myself tint them is the best way to do this. Once I’ve done that, I’m free to use my imagination to come up with something to say (like “hi” works well) or to solve the actual obstacles that are in my way (my own anxieties, for one). I might even use my imagination to create a best case expectation to talk myself up and try to relieve some anxiety that may be arising what the situation I’m in.

I owe a great deal of gratitude to this phrase, and I hope that it helps you lead a better, freer life too. I’m certainly still working on my own internal demons, but I’ve gotten better and will continue to do so. There are so many great things to do in the world, fantastic people to meet and terrific places to see, that we can’t afford to let our own old habits hold us back. The only thing holding us back should be reality, and we should be doing our damnest to move forward in spite of it. Onwards.

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Online Tools for Learning Spanish

This is more a list for my own reference, but it might be useful to others, feel free to make suggestions as well and I’ll update it.

Flashcard Program:

I use Anki. It’s available on Linux/Mac/FreeBSD/Windows/Android/iPhone/maemo, so there’s no excuses here. Also if you set up an account you can sync between different machines or phones.

You can also download pre-made decks from within Anki. I recommend “T’s Spanish Deck”. It seems the most intelligently constructed to me.

Translations:

http://translate.google.com/

Verb Conjugation Charts:

http://www.learnalanguage.com/learn-spanish/spanish-verbs/

Verb Conjugation Practice:

http://www.elmaeagles.com/spanish.htm

Argentine Spanish (Castellano) Slang Dictionary:

http://argentineslang.wordpress.com/

Someone should make an Anki deck for this and make it public…

Good Spanish Dictionary:

http://rae.es/rae.html – If you input a word then click the “Conjugar” button on the translation page, you can see a chart for the verb conjugations. This site is also great once you know some spanish for getting a better idea or the connotations and nuances of words as well as just get translations in Spanish.

Changing Things Up

I’ve spent a lot of my life since graduating high school moving to different places. Here’s a quick rundown for reference:

  • Graduate after spending the first 17 years of my life in Missoula
  • Move to Thailand for a year
  • Move back to Missoula for 4 months
  • Move to Washington for school for 9 months
  • Back to Missoula for 3 months
  • Back to Washington for 6 months
  • Germany for 5 months
  • Back to Washington for 12 months
  • Seattle for 3 months
  • Back to Washington for last 9 months of school
  • Off to Los Angeles for 2 1/2 years (one inter-city move in the middle of that)
  • Back to Missoula for 3 months
  • Currently in Argentina for 1 month (2 more planned)

Through all of this, I’ve had to learn a few things about travel and what’s important in my life. More than anything though, I’ve learned how to appreciate where I am. All to often people (myself included) get stuck in routine. Routine is nice because it’s comfortable. Change can be very anxiety provoking. I still hate moving, but I love exploring.

I was looking at a tourist map of Buenos Aires recently and had an epiphany: why don’t I own a tourist map of Los Angeles or Tacoma (where I went to school) or Missoula for that matter? Did I let myself get complacent? I’ll never know everything there is to know about a place, so why did I ever stop exploring? From here, I started pondering what else I could learn from my travel experience to apply towards more fully appreciating what life has to offer. Here’s a few items from my list.

Re-assess every 3 months

Breaking off connections and forcing myself into a new locations means that I have to find new places for my hobbies, new teachers, new classes, new teammates, new companies, etc. Because there is time and energy involved in this search, I often find myself rethinking what’s important to me. This means I get the opportunity to start or stop whatever I was doing guilt-free. Maybe I was playing ultimate frisbee with a team (I wasn’t, but for example) that I had some friends on, but really was only going because I felt obligated and because it was my weekly habit to go. Well if I move to a new city and don’t feeling like joining an ultimate league, I don’t have to. Granted this is a terrible way to get out of obligations, but realizing that freedom led me to the above rule.

Every activity you do should be working towards some greater goal for yourself. You don’t have to enjoy every minute of it, but it should be noticeably improving your life or have good probability of doing so in the future. Set aside some time right now and do this:

  1. Write a list of every activity you do regularly: Exercise, work, dance, art, music, meetups, hiking groups, drinking, poker playing, whatever…
  2. Ask yourself for each one: if I moved to the other side of the country, would I seek out people to help me continue doing this?
  3. If you answer no for any of these, stop doing them (unless you have a very good reason not).
  4. Make a calendar appointment for yourself to repeat this exercise 3 months from today.

One piece that makes this process easier is picking quantifiable goals. I bolded that because it’s that important. I get caught in time traps by my own mind every so often because I pick open ended goals. I hate giving up, so I stick with things that may not be what I really want to be doing. What I’m not saying is that you should constantly be changing your activities, merely that you should give yourself a chance to reevaluate every so often. For example, I recently decided that I want to get stronger so I’m going to spend 2 months doing a specific workout plan for that purpose. After that two months, I think I want to work on my running, but I’ll reevaluate at the end of the strength gain program and decide to continue if I’m really liking it, or move on if I feel it’s time. No worries, no guilt, because I accomplished my goal of doing it for two months.

Goal: Complete the task above and pick a goal you can do in the next two months.

Pick up a guide book:

If you live somewhere long enough, you get desensitized to all the excitement that’s around you. You go to the same places, hike the same trails, see the same sites. Next time you get a chance, stop by a local hotel and browse the brochures they have, or go to a local bookstore and pick up a trail map or a guide book for your region (the internet works well for this too — but I’m a fan of getting out of the house). From there it’s simple, find somewhere new to go. Maybe there’s a great museum you went to 3 years ago, but haven’t set foot in since, maybe there’s a concert venue you’ve never been to, could be anything. This step is pretty simple, the hard part is remembering to do it. Use your calendar again: put in a reminder for yourself every month to do something new that month.

Goal: Find one thing to do this month in your city that you’ve never done before.

Bring a camera:

Walking around with a camera puts you in a different mindset. Instead of walking to get somewhere, you’re walking to observe, to look at things in a new way. When you’re taking photos, suddenly a fire hydrant you’ve walked by every day for the past year is a dash of red in the forefront of a composition of green bushes. Once you’ve done this a few times taking photos, you’ll start to develop an appreciation for the beautiful things around you even without the camera. You’ll notice the clouds, the colors, the shapes of things you’d have passed by for mundane before.

Goal: Walk to a park near your house with your camera.

Make new friends:

The most difficult part of relocating is probably the loneliness of knowing no one. On the plus side though, this is a good motivator for being friendly and trying to meet new people. You’d be amazed how quickly you can find acquaintances and get to know people when you’re trying. Granted, not all of these are going to turn into your best friends, but at least you’re feeding one end of the funnel and it’s likely that you’ll filter out some you don’t get along with, but those that make it through will become a valuable part of your life.

Too often people find enough acquaintances in an area to fill up their invite calendars with drinking occasions, then stop looking. While this is fine, and it’s nice to have a stable social network, why not expose yourself to new people? It’s likely you meet new people all the time, but don’t consider getting to know them because they don’t need to. Keep in mind though that not needing something and not benefiting from having that something are separate concepts. Challenge yourself to keep exploring.

Goal: Invite someone new to do something with you and your friends.

Conclusion:

I hope this inspires you to get out and live a bit. Life can be hugely fulfilling or crushingly overwhelming and a lot of it has to do with how you treat yourself. If you set yourself up to enjoy it, you’ll enjoy it. That’s probably a whole other blog post in and of itself though, so I’ll just leave you with the above suggestions and hope you can take them and run.

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